Stumbling into Truth


I've been laboring mightily to complete a novel I've been working on for what seems like centuries but in reality has been about six months. One thing I love about writing romantic suspense is the challenge of interweaving elements from three genres in a balanced way: the suspense (easy for me; I'm an author born for cliffhangers), the romance (tougher with all the murderous mayhem, but do-able), and the mystery (the writing of which often feels like pulling my brain through nostrils with a crochet needle, something akin to the process the Egyptians used to prepare a dead poo-bah's noggin for mummification). With all this going on and a deadline to boot, it's no wonder that subtle element of theme escapes consideration.

For those of you who slept through or have slept since literature classes, it's pretty much the general idea or "lesson" of the story. For example, for Orwell's Animal Farm, you might say "Absolute power corrupts." For Dickens' Great Expectations, "Class is defined by character more surely than money and education" might fill the bill.

Back in English 201, I got the idea that Great Writers (dead white guys, usually) came up with all these themes, motifs, and symbols and brilliantly tucked these gems into their Deathless Prose as they salted the mine for future lit students to unearth.

Here in Reality 101, I'm finding it works differently. You develop characters and write the story, slaving over the what and why and whom until, if you're very, very lucky you earn the grace of a discovery. And the manuscript suddenly leans forward --on page 428 of a supposedly 400-page project, in my case -- and whispers into your ear, "This is what I am about. This is what all these months or years and countless pages boil down to."

And then you go back and you sculpt, chipping away at what doesn't fulfill the story's mission and leaving, if you're very lucky, the clean lines of a story emerge to arrow toward a truth.

Or at least this is how the process works for me. Maybe it's because I'm not a centuries dead, male writer of "Great Literature." But somehow, I think that many of them stumbled, struggled, and crochet-hooked their brains out through their nostrils also. Which is a great reminder that writing, like sausage-making, as I heard suspense author extraordinaire Harlan Coben mention in a Q&A this weekend, doesn't have to be a pretty process.

It's the end result that matters.

Comments

Dorothy Hagan said…
Hi, Coleen.

Back home from rural Pennsylvania after my mother's buriel. I can completely relate to that crochet hook in the brain thing.

I hope now to focus on my WIP. And am planning to use all I have learned thus far to take your advice and "write a really good book!"
Dorothy Hagan said…
In the book I will spell all names correctly, of course. (Sorry!)
I'm very sorry for your loss. It's good that you have your story to focus on right now.

Take care.

Oh, btw, there's a workshop on revision at West Houston RWA this Saturday. Should be a really good one.
The process of revising always makes me think of a TV segment I saw when I was a kid, about a guy who carved ducks out of wood. When asked about his technique, he said, "Well, I look at the block of wood, and then I just carve away everything that isn't the duck." It always struck me as a good analogy for writing novels; figuring out what the novel is about, and then carving away everything that isn't it.

Also, 428 pages in six months is impressive. Well done.
Thanks, Emily. Sometimes it takes another person to put it all into perspective. Books take as long as they take. You just have to put in the sweat equity and then get out of the way. :)

And I love the duck analogy. Take care!

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